It’s not dessert or merienda fare but a “painit,” meaning something to warm the stomach before breakfast, and in between lunch and dinner. It’s called “binignit”—and while Cebuanos can have it all year round, it becomes really popular during Holy Week when Catholics are told to abstain from eating meat.
It’s traditionally served during Good Friday, this famous sweetened stew with coconut milk and chopped up ube, taro, sweet potatoes, and saging nga saba. Guinataan is its Tagalog counterpart. What makes it uniquely Cebuano is the mixture of landang, says Louella Alix, food historian and author of “Hikay: The Culinary Heritage of Cebu” and “Food and Love.” Landang is a kind of flour made from the trunk of the buri tree.
Cebuanos can have as much as two or more servings of binignit a day during Lent. “Cebuanos eat five times a day. We do not want to be hungry,” says Louella. For her own binignit, though, the author prefers using brown sugar as sweetener instead of white or muscovado.
“Binignit is available whole year round. It just become famous during Holy Week and most especially on Good Friday for religious adherence,” says Louella. “We are asked to fast, eat one meal a day, and abstain from eating meat. And if you eat a bowl of binignit, it’s enough to last the day. It’s mostly root crops, and it’s easy to prepare. They often ask me what could be another delicacy best eaten with binignit. None. Binignit is so loaded already,” she says.
Major public markets in Cebu such as Carbon and T. Padilla remain open on Good Friday to accommodate customers purchasing ingredients last minute. As to where the dish originated is not known because where farms are, binignit is served. “North to South, Cebu has farmlands,” Louella says.
In the 90s, I recall my father cooking it using a huge caldero for our family and for our neighbors. But this year’s Holy Week, I saw a bigger batch being prepared by chef Rose Marie Lim. Her pot has a 100-gallon capacity, more than enough for her staff and their families. Rose Marie mixed 25 kilos of root crops, 50 coconuts, five kilos of landang, three kilos of jackfruit, sago, and glutinous rice flour.
“I started cooking binignit for my staff last year at the start of the pandemic because I wanted them to stay home and not go with the crowds to Carbon to buy ingredients,” she says. Rose Marie operates the cakes and pastry shop Caro and Marie, which also has a culinary institute in Cebu City. Since she cannot hold onsite classes yet due to the health scare, she has produced free video tutorials on the school’s official Facebook page.
“Binignit was always a part of my childhood. But I do not remember my mother making it only for Holy Week,” the chef recalls. “I started making it for Holy Week when I became an adult. I have always promoted the preservation of our culinary heritage. I continue to teach ‘forgotten’ recipes for the next generation.”
Meanwhile in Mandaue City, Irma Acuña, cook and matriarch of the family-run native delicacy store Little Giant’s Corner, cooks a slightly different version. Originally a Bulakeña, she puts a touch of her hometown in her binignit. Her recipe has rice balls, sago, jackfruit, and taro, but without landang. And she prefers to sprinkle it with white sugar.
Since her relocation to Cebu in the 90s, Irma has been serving binignit to corporate canteens and resorts. “Mine is less sweet,” she says, “and part of the secret is in the fire.” Irma believes the Cebuanos have embraced her slightly different recipe, and Maundy Thursday’s repeat orders are proof.